Irish-American Dems push for citizenship path in immigration bill

Crowley's office estimates there are about 50,000 Irish living illegally in the United States. Irish leaders have been lobbying for them to be included in any immigration overhaul.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) rued the lack of attention that groups like the Irish – "this additional dimension" – have received amid the immigration debate.

"While this issue frequently focuses on the southwest of America, the truth is there's another whole dimension in cities like Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Chicago and New York," Neal said. "Think of those families who can never return to Ireland when a loved one dies, who can never go back for a graduation … because the trouble is they might not get back into America."

The Irish-American Democrats — including Reps. Carolyn McCarthyCarolyn McCarthyWhy Congress needs an openly atheist member, now Lobbying World Lobbying world MORE (N.Y.), Bill Keating (Mass.), Joseph Kennedy (Mass.) and Tim Ryan (Ohio) — are urging an overhaul of the nation's immigration policies that would allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually become citizens. 

That provision, championed by President Obama and immigrant rights advocates, has been among the major sticking points as bipartisan negotiators in the House and Senate have grappled with a reform plan that satisfies all sides. Opponents of the citizenship pathway contend it would provide "amnesty" to people who are in the country illegally.

Crowley conceded there must be "requirements" for illegal immigrants wishing to remain in the U.S. and gain citizenship. "But … ultimately what's important is that included in that must be a road to full citizenship," he added. "We don't want to be about creating a new class of sub-American."

Crowley also emphasized that a "big part" of any comprehensive bill must be language ensuring that future flows of immigrants be available to keep up with the nation's employment needs.

The Senate proposal could emerge later this week. The House version is "close," according to a Democratic aide familiar with the talks, but won't be released this week.

Neither the timing nor the location of the Democrats' press conference was an accident, as thousands of immigration reform advocates are expected to gather at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon to urge Congress to enact an overhaul this year. 

Indeed, dozens of those activists – arriving early for the rally – gathered around the Democrats outside the Capitol, waving signs and snapping pictures of the lawmakers.

Regarding the crowd, Crowley quipped "one thing we like to say in the Irish community is, 'Si se puede!' "

The crowd responded with chants of the same.